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On Leadership, Science, and Happiness

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

It’s safe to say we’ll all be happy to see this year come to an end.  Fifty years from now people will still be studying the pandemic of 2020, catastrophic hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, riots, a controversial election, and the Nashville bombing.  We have reasons to be exhausted.

Despite all these dreadful events, or perhaps because of them, there is much to be learned.  It could easily fill a book, but for now, a few thoughts will suffice:

On Leadership

  • The people who are trying to frighten you are trying to control you.  Ignore them. Good leaders inspire confidence and optimism, not despair.
  • There is never a place for panic in leadership. There is never a place for panic in public policy.
  • Good leaders actually do what they ask others to do. They do not exempt themselves from difficult, inconvenient, or unpleasant tasks.
  • True leaders respect others.  They do not harbor disdain for others.
  • Tyrants (false leaders) often succeed because cowardice is so common.  Show some spine when bullies arise, and remember, no politician or bureaucrat has missed a paycheck in 2020.
  • When in the course of human events, it becomes clear that what you’re doing isn’t working, it’s time to change what you’re doing — especially in a crisis.

On Science

  • Genuine science requires brutal honesty, discipline, openness, acceptance of uncertainty, and humility.  Real science always has been and always will be a work in progress.  When people scream, “Follow the science,” all too often they mean, “Do as I say.”
  • The main point of science is to help us overcome problems and adapt to difficult circumstances. Creative people in every domain have learned to adapt to massive challenges over the years. The Year 2020 was no exception.  In a crisis people need practical advice and suggestions, not domination and suppression.

On Happiness

  • Most of us still have much for which to be grateful, and there is no happiness without gratitude. Take nothing for granted. Many of us now miss things as simple as family, friends, hugs, and handshakes.
  • There are plenty of unkind people in the world. Don’t be one of them.  Kindness and happiness go hand in hand.
  • Don’t believe anyone who insists our darkest days lie ahead.  Such people do not understand the wonders of the human spirit.  It is never time to give up, despair, or cower in a corner.

Fear not.  We’ve learned a great deal in 2020, and we will build on that knowledge.  Be focused.  Be engaged.  Stay informed (not indoctrinated).  No matter what happens in 2021, do not relinquish your right to engage in independent thought and speech.  The future depends on it.

Happy New Year to All.